Although the volume of cargo thefts in the United States declined by 20 percent in the third quarter of 2014, the loss value of those thefts increased by 104 percent, reveals the latest cargo theft trend report by FreightWatch International. FreightWatch International further reports that the average loss-value ceiling is on a continuous rise and attributes this to the targeting of high value freight by organized cargo thieves.
FreightWatch International tracks and records cargo theft and then categorizes stolen loads into 13 different product types, tracking by date, location, modus operandi, value and specific product. The product categories are: alcohol/tobacco; auto/parts; building/industrial; clothing/shoes; electronics; food/drinks; home/garden; metals; miscellaneous; personal care, pharmaceuticals.
In the third quarter of 2014, there were 208 incidents of cargo theft in the United States with 194 Full-Truckload (FTL) cargo thefts and 14 Last-Mile Courier thefts, according to FreightWatch International. Seventy of the FTL thefts happened in July, 76 in August and 48 in September. The average loss value per theft was $321,521.
During the third quarter, the Food/Drinks category was once again the product type most often stolen. There were a total of 35 incidents in the category, comprising 18 percent of all thefts. Targeted products in this category were meats, nuts, and canned and dry goods. The Electronics category came in a close second in the most stolen category with 17 incidents making up 33 percent of the total. Televisions, projectors, cell phones and accessories were the most popular subtypes.
Third among product type most often stolen was the Home/Garden sector with 28 thefts and 15 percent of total thefts. Appliances made up 46 percent of this category. The Building/Industrial category was next at 27 thefts (14 percent), made up mostly of building supplies and industrial equipment. The Auto/Parts, Clothing/Shoes and Metals categories came next in a three-way tie with eight thefts or eight percent of the total each.
FreightWatch International also released statistics broken down by state. California once again took first place in states with the most cargo theft, rising up from second place in the second quarter of 2014. There were 42 theft incidents, making up 21.4 percent of the total number of cargo thefts. This was a 36 percent increase over the volume in the second quarter. This did, however, represent a 46 percent decrease over the same quarter of last year.
Florida came in second with 33 thefts or 17 percent of the total number of cargo thefts. This represented a 28 percent decrease from the last quarter but a 10 percent increase from the same quarter in 2013. Texas once again came in third with a total of 33 thefts or 13 percent of the total.
Counter to the national decline, New Jersey saw an increase in theft volume with 33 thefts (13 percent of the total), an 82 percent increase in volume. The top four states accounted for 62 percent of the national cargo thefts. The state of Washington is a first-timer on the list with four thefts. Some think this could be an indication that the cargo theft ring that was rumored to have left California may be targeting the Pacific Northwest.
As always, FreightWatch International reports that unattended cargo is at the greatest risk for cargo theft. Unsecured parking made up the greatest number of theft incidents with 132 thefts, 23 percent of which took place at truck stops. Warehouse/distribution center thefts increased from 15 to 17 incidents. Secured parking had only one theft.
When it comes to the type of event, theft of trailer/container was the most common with 164 thefts or 85 percent of all thefts. Deceptive pickup and facility burglary tied for second, each having nine thefts. Although FreightWatch reports only confirmed thefts, it says that many reports of trucking companies with compromised identity were reported, which indicates deceptive pickup to be a growing threat. Additionally, the third quarter saw four driver thefts and one hijacking.
The average loss value for the third quarter ($321,521) was 82 percent higher than the second quarter and 104 percent higher than the third quarter of last year. Pharmaceuticals (medications) had the highest average loss value at $2,000,000, but that was due mostly to one hefty theft. The average loss for Electronics was $1,079,178 (a 279 percent increase). This was due in part to four separate thefts each valued at over $1 million. Pharmaceuticals (supplies) had the third highest average value loss at $453,625, most of which also was due to a single theft. Alcohol/Tobacco and Personal Care registered higher loss values at $421,407 and $412,000 respectively.
A new level of sophistication
In its latest report, FreightWatch International put the spotlight on the Pacific Northwest’s recent rise in theft volumes. The third quarter saw four of the six theft incidents in the last 12 months. Fifty percent of those thefts were multiple trailer thefts, with one taking three trailers and another taking four trailers. This is the first time there has been a recorded theft incident involving multiple trailers in the region, which FreightWatch says is a definite signature of experienced and organized cargo theft participants.
The level of sophistication in thefts is also increasing. In one theft in Sumner, Wash., the thieves broke into the yard, cut CCTV cords, opened trailer doors and then broke the seals on the cargo in order to see what type of merchandise the trailers were carrying. They proceeded to mark nine trailers that they wanted removed. Three tractors arrived and succeeded in stealing four of the trailers before one became wedged on another trailer and foiled the rest of the plot. The thieves netted $1.35 million in laptops and other electronic devices.
The group that is believed to be responsible for this theft has its roots in Southern California and is believed to be the same group that committed nine trailer thefts in the Kent and Auburn areas of Washington earlier this year. The drop in cargo theft levels in California may be attributed to this group that aims for high-value cargo having moved its target area to Washington.
FreightWatch anticipates the surge in cargo theft activity in the Northwest to continue. Other hotspots are expected to emerge along I-5 and I-85, especially near Portland, OR, and Boise, ID, due to the number of truck stops there and the distance from the major shipping hub of Seattle, WA. FreightWatch is also predicting an increase in deceptive pickups in the region.
A warning for Truckers
Most recently, FreightWatch is also warning drivers about an elevation in “red zone” truckload thefts. There have been three of them in the last three weeks due to what it calls an “unusually high rate in violations of best practices for in-transit security.” The three recent thefts were caused by “staging cargo within the red zone.” The red zone is defined as the area within 200 miles of a load’s origin. A large majority of cargo thefts occur within the first 200 miles of transport, says FreightWatch, and warns carriers and drivers to avoid red zone stops if possible.
FreightWatch recommends certain procedures to drivers in order to prevent cargo theft. For example, after leaving a shipper with a load, truck drivers should make sure they have enough hours left on their 14-hour clock and enough fuel in their tanks to drive beyond the red zone. FreightWatch also warns truck drivers to keep in constant communication with their carriers if emergency stops are made within a red zone. Most importantly, unattended staging for any length of time in the red zone should be avoided completely.
If a red zone stop is absolutely necessary, drivers should be sure to park in well-lit secured areas with the trailer back against an obstacle or permanent fixture. To further protect loads, “employ sound technology such as brake locks, fuel cut-offs and covert GPS tracking with active monitoring, says FreightWatch.